The prime minister plans to present a plan to further reduce the budget on Friday and then seek parliament's approval.
By Andy Dabilis for Southeast European Times in Athens -- 27/09/12
Greek police guard a corner in downtown Athens on Wednesday (September 26th) after pushing back anti-austerity protesters. [Andy Dabilis/SETimes]
Thousands of Greek police clashed with an estimated 50,000 demonstrators during a 24-hour general strike on Wednesday (September 26th) protesting another round of pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions ordered to repair the ailing economy.
It was the first major protest against the government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras' coalition, which is trying to finalise another 11.5 billion euros in cuts demanded by international lenders.
Police fired stun grenades and tear gas at hooded anarchists who threw Molotov cocktails during the protest in front of the parliament. The protest raged as judges, teachers, police and uniformed military officers engaged in demonstrations and work slowdowns in a one-day protest. Ships stayed docked, museums and monuments were shut to visitors and air traffic controllers walked off the job.
Samaras is caught between trying to appease the EU-IMF-ECB Troika, which is putting up 239 billion euros in rescue loans, and satisfying his coalition partners who are balking at more pay and pension cuts. He has promised they would be the last -- echoing similar vows by previous governments.
He plans to try to present the budget cut package to Troika officials on Friday, and push it through parliament before a meeting of EU officials on October 8th that could determine whether a delayed 30.17 billion-euro loan installment, and a pending second bailout of 130 billion euros, will be released.
Without the money, Greece could be forced into default, pushed out of the Eurozone and jeopardise the financial bloc of 17 countries.
Samaras has said he needs a two-year extension to impose more reforms and lower the country's deficit from 9.3 to 3 percent as demanded by the Troika, but that could require as much as another 15 billion euros in aid.
"A solution must be found or we will be destroyed," Antonis Klapsis, head of research for the Konstantinos Karamanlis Institute for Democracy in Athens, the New Democracy think tank, told SETimes. "Samaras is doing the best he can to solve the problem and he will implement the measures."
In the new cuts, Samaras is aiming again at workers, pensioners and the poor. But many Greeks say they can't take any more.
"We have to protest and organise and keep up the pressure," Ioanna Revithi, 30, a clinical psychologist who joined the protest, told SETimes. She said funds have been cut drastically at her clinic. "What are we going to do with the patients?"
Labor union leaders say they will not let up until Samaras backs down.
"This recipe for Greece is wrong. It has led the country to a dead end and the Troika has to recognise they have to change it," Efstathios Anestis, deputy general secretary of GSEE, which represents Greece's private sector workers, told SETimes.
"They are asking for more pay cuts and taxes from the same categories," Vassilis Xenakis, secretary for the National Affairs for the public sector labor union ADEDY, told SETimes.
Unions want the government to renege on its deal with the Troika, raise taxes on the wealthy and go after tax evaders who owe the country 54 billion euros, a bill that rises by nearly 11.6 billion euros a year as tax cheats remain largely unpunished.
Lena Vamvakithou, 54, who said she fears losing her fruit and vegetable store because customers have cut back on spending, tried to wash tear gas out of her eyes as she explained why she came to protest.
"I'm here because I want desperately for something to change … they want to kill us," she told SETimes. "This was our last chance. This is our end."